NFL: Week 4 Picks

5 undefeated teams remain as we head into week 4 of the NFL season.  I went 9-7 a week ago, bringing my season total to 26-22.

Bye Week: Philadelphia and Green Bay

Thursday Night Football

  • Dolphins @ Bengals: Miami barely squeaked by the Browns last week, while the Bengals were beat down by the defending champs at home.  The Dolphins got a big day from Jarvis Landry, but inconsistency continues to plague Ryan Tannehill, who threw a pick six in the win. Cincinnati got their running game going, but still lost to 1-2 for the first time in five years.  After two very good weeks, Andy Dalton couldn’t do much against the Broncos defense. I like the Bengals at home with another good rushing game to get their second win of the season. CINCINNATI WINS

Sunday Morning Football 

  • Colts @ Jaguars: London here they come! Indianapolis got their first win of the season last week, while Jacksonville is still looking for theirs.  Andrew Luck has the uncanny ability to turn a bad day into a big day passing the ball, but the Jaguars defense isn’t the problem so far, so he’ll need help.  Blake Bortles on the other hand, has been pretty awful for Jacksonville in his third year under center. So what happens this weekend across the pond? Give me a cleaner day from Luck to lift the Colts. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Bills @ Patriots: Three different quarterbacks have started for New England, but that hasn’t stopped the winning.  And as for the Bills, they got their first win over a team many think, myself included, are a playoff team destined for a deep run.  Both teams got big two-touchdown games out of their number 1 running backs, so look for another day of running the clock. The Patriots have to get through one more week without Tom Brady, and while they’ve done a great job doing so, and are very, very good at home, I’m taking the road team in this one. BUFFALO WINS
  • Titans @ Texans: It was a very bad week for Houston, who not only lost their Thursday game versus New England 27-0, they learned that JJ Watt re-injured his back and will be out the rest of the year.  Tennessee’s week wasn’t much better, as they scored just 10 points in their loss to Oakland. Both teams enter action having scored the same amount of points through 3 games, but of course that’s skewed with the Texans O-fer last weekend. Marcus Mariota and Brock Osweiler have both thrown 4 interceptions so far this season, so whoever can limit mistakes has the edge. A Titans win puts them in a tie for the division early.  But I don’t think they get it, because I like the Texans skill position players better. HOUSTON WINS
  • Lions @ Bears: The Lions are 1-2, but haven’t struggled in the passing game, as Matthew Stafford has found a new weapon in Marvin Jones after Calvin Johnson called it a career in the off-season.   The silver lining there for the 0-3 Bears is that their defense has actually done okay against the pass so far this season.  Chicago got a pretty good game out of Brandon Hoyer, who finished 30-49 for 317 yards, though most of that came with the game out of hand already. Both teams have the ability to get the points in the air, and with two middling defenses, that shouldn’t be a problem.  So this game will be won in the trenches, and the edge there lies with the Lions. DETROIT WINS
  • Panthers @ Falcons: Carolina is another team I thought would have a great season, but has disappointed so far.  Thanks to the struggles of the Panthers and the rest of the NFC South, Atlanta finds themself atop the division early on in the season.  This dispite allowing 31, 28 and 32 points in their first three games.  The Falcons may not be getting sustained success in their ground game early, they are getting it when it counts.  Tevin Coleman has just 110 yards on the ground, but has 4 rushing touchdowns, including 3 on Sunday in New Orleans. Carolina entered action red-hot at home dating back to 2014, but we shut down by a red-hot Vikings defense a week ago.  I still believe in the Panthers defense, and as hot as Atlanta has been, I think Carolina gets the win on the road. CAROLINA WINS
  • Seahawks @ Jets: The good news for Jets fans? Ryan Fitzpatrick can only be better than he was a week ago. The bad news? He has to be a lot better against the top defense in the league. After scoring just 3 points against L.A. in week 2, the Seahawks exercised some demons putting up 37 against the Niners.  Russell Wilson was hobbled in the game, but still managed to leave with a nice lead.  Big games from Christine Michael and Doug Baldwin helped get the offense back on track.  New York can solace in the fact that they have had a pretty good run game all season, and while some of it came in garbage time, Seattle did allow the Niners to get over 130 yards on the ground, finding pay dirt twice.  This shouldnt be as ugly for the Jets as it was last week, but it will still be a loss. SEATTLE WINS
  • Raiders @ Ravens: Baltimore finds itself among the undefeated teams heading into week 4, in large part thanks to their defense and a good day from kicker Justin Tucker.  The Ravens are second in total defense through 3 weeks of play.  Their opponents won their 2nd game by  forcing three turnovers, with a sack after entering week 3 having allowed the Saints and Falcons to walk all over them.  So based on defenses, Baltimore should have an easy win.  But I actually like Oakland’s offense a lot more, and as someone who thinks this is a playoff team, I’ll take the Raiders in the upset. OAKLAND WINS
  • Browns @ Redskins: Cleveland should’ve gotten their first win of the season in Miami a week ago, but an inability to stop the air attack, and three missed field goals left them at 0-3. They gave themselves a shot, but couldn’t take it.  Cody Kessler’s first career start wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t very good for Cleveland, though at this point, coming out healthy is huge for the Browns. Washington did get their first win, taking down the Giants on the road. After a couple lackluster offensive weeks, Kirk Cousins let it loose and got a number of big plays in the passing game to help get that first win and move back in the right direction to defend their NFC East title.  So can the Browns get their first win this week? Yes. Will they? I don’t think so. They stayed in last week thanks to mistakes by Tannehill, but Cousins won’t make those same mistakes. WASHINGTON WINS

Sunday 4/425PM Games

  • Broncos @ Buccaneers: The Superbowl Champs are showing no signs of slowing down as they look to start the season 4-0.  Denver got off to a slow start last week against the Bengals, but came on strong late thanks to a big day from rookie quarterback Trevor Siemian.  Siemian threw four touchdown passes, including two in the fourth quarter for the win.  Not to be outdone, the Broncos are a top flight defense that held down Andy Dalton and their rushing attack.  They’ve got another tough test when they take on Jameis Winston this weekend.  The Bucs 2nd year quarterback is tied for the league lead in touchdown passes so far with 8, though he has thrown six picks to.  It won’t be a blowout, none of Denver’s games really have been, but it will be another win for the Broncos. DENVER WINS
  • Rams @ Cardinals: I’m shocked at the start the Cardinals are having at just 1-2. Carson Palmer has had a bad TD-turnover ratio through 3 weeks.   Arizona isn’t getting quite out of David Johnson on the ground, while their defense is allowing the 5th most rushing yards per game.  This is as good a week as any to get back to what they want to do in all phases as they take on their division rival Rams, who find themselves tied atop the division at 2-1.  Los Angeles has rebounded nicely from a shutout on opening day, winning their last two games.  The Rams tend to play up or down to their opponents, evident by a 9-3 home win over Seattle and a 37-32 shootout on the road in Tampa Bay.  Going off those results,  I’ll take the Cardinals at home in what should be a close game throughout between these two West foes. ARIZONA WINS
  • Cowboys @ Niners: Dallas couldn’t have asked for more from rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot through three weeks.  The Tony Romo-less Cowboys were a game-winning field-goal away from being 3-0 right now. Dez Bryant has a hairline fracture in his knee but is still expected to play this weekend.  San Francisco was manhandled in week 3, and still isn’t making a change back to Colin Kaepernick.  The biggest thing the Niners have going for them is Carlos Hyde has looked pretty good.  I like what the Caowboys have done this season, but I have a feeling about San Fran this week. It might be a bad feeling, but I’m rolling with it. SAN FRANCISCO WINS
  • Saints @ Chargers: It’s still early, but the Saints need to start picking up some wins quickly if they want to make the playoffs as I predicted they would as a wildcard team in the NFC.  The offense hasn’t been the problem.  Drew Brees is already over a 1,000 yards passing, with an 8-1 touchdown to interception ratio, though that one interception last week was a fourth quarter pick six for Brees.  New Orleans defense hasn’t been been able to stop anyone, as they’ve allowed the 2nd most total yards.  Worst at stopping the run, that’s where the Chargers will need to take advantage this week.  But without Danny Woodhead, San Diego needs Melvin Gordon to get going, so this is the perfect opportunity for that.  I like Philip Rivers, but I like Drew Brees more.  Give me the road team to get win number 1 this week. NEW ORLEANS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Chiefs @ Steelers: What a defensive performance put on by the Chiefs this past week! Two defensive touchdowns and six interceptions helped Kansas City get the easy win over the Jets.  The offense wasn’t great, but they didn’t need to be with that showing on defense.  Alex Smith continued to show his game management skills, and why Travis Kelce is one of the better tight ends in the league right now. They’ve got a desperate Steelers team thsi week, who didn’t score a touchdown in a week 3 beatdown by the Eagles.  After two very good weeks, DeAngelo Williams was stymied on the ground, so the rushing attack will gladly welcome back Le’Veon Bell from suspension this week. The biggest test for the Kansas City defense will be stopping Antonio Brown, but I don’t think it will matter much even if he does have a big day. KANSAS CITY WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Giants @ Vikings: This should be a battle of two unbeatens, but a late game collapse left the Giants at 2-1 heading into today.  Too many penalties, a couple late turnovers and allowing Washington to open up the field multiple times led to the home loss for New York.  They lost Shane Vereen to a triceps injury as well.  Eli Manning and company need to do more in the passing game, and they have the capability with three wide receivers.  The bad news for New York is that the Vikings are running on all cylinders right now.  Their defense has been relentless through three weeks, and despite losing starting QB Teddy Bridgewater before the season started, the offense has been very good.  Sam Bradford has come in and fit in better in two weeks then he’s done in the first few seasons of his career.  It’s going to be tough for the Giants on the road, but I like New York will figure things out and get back in the win column.  NEW YORK WINS
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NFL: Week 3 Picks

We’ve reached week 3 of the season, and still have 8 undefeated and 8 winless teams. There have also been a lot of big injuries early that will have a big impact on week 3 and beyond.  As for my picks, I’m 18-14 through 2 weeks. Here’s what I’m thinking going into week 3.

Thursday Night Football

  • Texans @ Patriots: Jimmy Garoppolo left with a shoulder injury for New England, who still managed to move to 2-0.  This was thanks in large part to Garoppolo’s 3 touchdown passes before his injury as well as a big performance from LeGarrett Blount in the run game. The Texans took down the Chiefs on the strength of their defense to move to 1-1, a stark difference from their 33-0 loss to Kansas City in the playoffs.  Without Garoppolo, I think the Texans will do enough to get another win to start off the week 3 action. HOUSTON WINS

Sunday 1pm Games

  • Ravens @ Jaguars: Baltimore got very lucky in week 2, as they overcame a 20-0 1st quarter deficit to improve to 2-0.  Cleveland never scored again, while Joe Flacco brought his team back with a 25-45, 302 yard performance.  Their opponents have been disappointing to me so far.  While I didn’t think the Jaguars were going to make the playoffs this season, I thought they’d be better than they’ve shown, starting 0-2 again after They crossed midfield only six times and committed three turnovers. BALTIMORE WINS
  • Lions @ Packers: Both teams enter 1-1 after losing in week 2, and are looking to keep pace with the 2-0 Vikings.  The Packers lost their game in the 4th quarter, turning the ball over twice, while allowing Rodgers to be sacked 5 times. Detroit also lost their game in the 4th quarter when they were outscored 13-0 by the Titans, including a 93-yard game winning drive.  The Lions didn’t have a go to back in week 2, losing Ameer Abdullah to an injury.   So who gets back in the win column this week? I’ll take the Packers at home with a much-needed big day from Eddie Lacy. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Redskins @ Giants: Washington won the NFC East a year ago, but have opened up this season 0-2.  Struggles in the red zone and an inability to force turnovers meant a loss in a back-and-forth affair with Dallas last week. New York’s offense moved up and down the field pretty easily on Sunday, but also struggled in the redzone, and had too many turnovers in the 1st half.  But the defense and special teams stepped up and they moved to 2-0. So who takes this division matchup?  Give me the home team to get over their redzone struggles and take advantage of Eli Manning’s league leading completion percentage, which should be even better as the Giants receiving core dropped at least 5 balls in week 2. NEW YORK WINS
  • Browns @ Dolphins: For the 5th week in a row (dating back to last season), Cleveland will be starting a different QB.  Someone should tell them this isn’t baseball, there’s no starting rotation in football.  Even with the QB carousel, the Browns almost, and should have, pulled out their first win in week 2.  They were up 20-2 on the Ravens, thanks in big part to their ground attack, but fell late.  Miami isn’t in any better a position than their week 3 opponents, as they enter action at 0-2 as well.  The Dolphins were down big early to the Pats, but made a comeback after Jimmy Garoppolo went down with an injury.  Cleveland will be in this game until the end because Miami has had issues stopping the run early.  But even of Isaiah Crowell goes big on the ground, I still think they pull out the win at home. MIAMI WINS
  • Vikings @ Panthers: Minnesota will now be without their starting QB and running back for the rest of the season after Adrian Peterson went down in their game on Sunday night. The Vikings defense looked stong against Aaron Rogers in week 2. As for Carolina, they rebounded offensively in week 2, but they still struggled a bit on defense, allowing the Niners to score 27.  They’ll be without their running back Jonathan Stewart, but were picked up by Fozzy Whittaker on the ground.  Despite the 27 points allowed, I like the Panthers chances of stopping Sam Bradford and the new Vikings weapon and league receiving yards leader Stefon Diggs. CAROLINA WINS
  • Broncos @ Bengals: Andy Dalton has gotten off to a nice start this season, leading the league with 732 passing yards, so here’s a good test for the Broncos league leading defense.  CJ Anderson is having a good start to the season, and we’ve seen the Bengals give up the most rushing yards per game to start the season, so he should be able to help eat a lot of clock for Denver. DENVER WINS
  • Cardinals @ Bills: Arizona rebounded from a tough week 1 loss by handily beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The Cardinals led the league in total offense, while the Bills dropped to 0-2 despite putting up 31 points of their own in week 2. Buffalo has let their offensive coordinator go, so they really need this game.  Too bad I don’t think they’ll get it.  Look for a big game from running back Daniel Johnson. ARIZONA WINS
  • Raiders @ Titans: Oakland has not been able to stop anyone through two weeks, something I wasn’t expecting, allowing 70 points so far.  Tennessee has actually done a very nice job on defense.  Both teams are 1-1 heading into this game, but I still like the Raiders better.  The Titans offense hasn’t shown the big play ability the Raiders have, so Oakland should be able to hold them down better than they did with New Orleans and Atlanta. OAKLAND WINS

Sunday 4/425pm Games

  • Rams @ Buccaneers: LA’s defense showed up in week 2, Tampa’s did not.  The difference between these two teams is the offense.  While the Bucs went from scoring 4 TDs to 1, I feel more confident about their offense than the Rams, who have scored just 9 points in two games.  The best chance the Rams have is if their defense can do what it did a week ago, and good game out of Todd Gurley. That being said, I’ll take the home team in this one. TAMPA BAY WINS
  • 49ers @ Seahawks: This is a big (albeit early) NFC West battle between two 1-1 teams.  San Francisco followed up a surprise week 1 win with a defensive breakdown against Carolina.  Seattle had one of their worst offensive games in this recent stretch of Superbowl quality teams, scoring just a field goal against the L.A. Rams. I can’t see the Seahawks being held down again, especially by the Niners.  Russell Wilson should be able to dominate in this one. SEATTLE WINS
  • Steelers @ Eagles:  I never thought this would be a game where both teams have a chance to move to 3-0, but here we are.  DeAngelo Williams has been huge for Pittsbrgh in the abscense of Le’Veon Bell, who is out one more week due to suspension. Philadelphia has gotten about as good as you can ever hope to from a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz, who hasn’t turned the ball over yet. It should be a good game, but I will go with the experience in this one. PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Jets @ Chiefs: Two teams I picked to make the playoffs in the AFC face off in Kansas City this weekend.  New York picked up their first win last week, thanks to the offense.  Off-season acquisition Matt Forte finished with 100 yards rushing, and three rushing touchdowns. Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall both finished with 100 receiving yards as well.  The Jets defense wasn’t as impressive as it was week 1.  The Chiefs hope that’s the case again this week, as they couldn’t get much of anything started against Houston. A lot went right for New York last week, and I can’t see them doing quite that well against Kansas City’s defense as they did against Buffalo.  If this were a home game for the Jets I might choose differently, but it’s a home game for the Chiefs, so I’ll go with them this week.  KANSAS CITY WINS
  • Chargers @ Colts: San Diego is 2-0, Indianapolis is 0-2.  I really thought that the Colts would be able to do better than they have on defense, but they haven’t. San Diego has looked very good on offense to start this season, Indy has been very up and down. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Bears @ Cowboys: Chicago is 0-2 despite holding early leads in both week 1 and week 2.  And now they’ll be without starting quarterback Jay Cutler due to a thumb injury.   Their best hope to beat the Cowboys is to continue limiting the passing game, as the Bears rank 4th in the NFL allowing 224 yards a game.   As for Dallas, they picked up their first win thanks to another clean day from Dak Prescott and a big night on the ground. The Boys were already a better team than the Bears before the Cutler injury, so give me Dallas at home to move to 2-1. DALLAS WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Falcons @ Saints: Atlanta picked up their first win against an impressive Raiders team in week 2, while New Orleans dropped to 0-2 after a game winning field goal by the Giants.  Atlanta hasn’t had any problems scoring this season, but their defense has struggled at times.  New Orleans’ defense was much better in week 2, forcing 3 turnovers, but it wasn’t enough.  I picked the Saints to make the playoffs, so this is a huge game for them.  If they want to get their first win, they have to figure out how to run the ball.  The Falcons tend to be very inconsistent, so give me New Orleans at home in a shootout. NEW ORLEANS WINS

NFL: Week 2 Picks

Week 1 sure didn’t disappoint.  We had a ton of close games, a few massive comebacks and plenty of big performances.

The Broncos showed why they are the defending champs, the Patriots showed they are all about the next man up and the Raiders offense made us all pay attention.  Over in the NFC, we learned that Jordy Nelson doesn’t take long to get back into the flow after an injury, Victor Cruz can still get past defenders and into the end-zone, and that Jameis Winston can score with the best of them.

I went 8-8 for my week 1 picks. Here’s to hoping week 2 goes better.

Thursday Night Football

  • Jets @ Bills: In both teams first division game, it’s a battle to avoid an 0-2 start.  Both teams had impressive defensive showings in week 1.  The Jets were able to get to Andy Dalton for a record 7 sacks thanks to a big day from their defensive line.  Darrelle Revis was exploited by A.J. Green like few others have been able to in the corner’s 10-year career.  Buffalo held Baltimore to one touchdown, and not much on the ground.  New York was hurt by missed PAT and FG from the usually on-point Nick Folk and a late Ryan Fitzpatrick interception. So which team should feel better about their chances in week 2?  I like the Jets to fix their little mistakes on offense this week. NEW YORK WINS

Sunday 1pm Games

  • Saints @ Giants: If there’s one thing we learned in week 1, it’s that the Saints defense isn’t much better than last season, while the Giants defense finally learned to limit damage.  New York shouldn’t be happy about allowing the Cowboys to dominate time of possession, but Big Blue should be very excited about how their wide receiving core looked.  Victor Cruz scored his first touchdown since 2014, rookie wideout Sterling Shepard got his first and Odell Beckham Jr. took pressure off both.  The game-winning drive for New York featured solid offensive line play they’ve desperately lacked the past couple of seasons.  New Orleans had no issues on offense in week 1, with Drew Brees throwing 4 touchdowns.  Oakland took that game with a late drive and two-point conversion on the road, leaving a hungry Saints team looking to avoid an 0-2 start.  Last year’s match-up between these two meant 101 combined points. While I don’t think it will get that bad this time around, it could still be a shootout.  Obviously, I liked what the Giants did a lot more in week 1 than the Saints, but I can’t see an 0-2 start for this Saints team. NEW ORLEANS WINS
  • Titans @ Lions: Detroit’s offense looked very good in week 1. The defense struggled in the second half, blowing a 21 point lead only to hold on in the end for a 1-0 start.  Tennessean saw signs of life from DeMarco Murray on offense, but allowed Minnesota to score not one, but two defensive touchdowns.  The Lions definitely hold the edge in offense heading into week 2, but I don’t think Detroit can replicate that again.  Look for Marcus Mariota to have a big day.  TENNESSEE WINS
  • Cowboys @ Redskins: One team lost by a point at home in week 1, the other got beat down.  Dallas had a shot to get rookie QB Dak Prescott a win in his debut, but time management cost them a shot at a game-winning field goal.  Washington looked pretty good defensively early against Pittsburgh on Monday night, then Antonio Brown showed up.  The Cowboys were able to eat up a lot of clock Sunday, and the way the Skins played the run against Pittsburgh, Dallas can absolutely do that again.  Washington’s run game gained less than 60 yards. That’ll be the difference. DALLAS WINS
  • Chiefs @ Texans:  Both teams come into this match-up at 1-0, but with work to do. Slow starts could’ve doomed both in their first games, but things got going late. Brock Osweiler led the Texans on a 23-0 run after spotting the Bears 14 early.  KC had to come back from down 21-0 and get the win in overtime.  At least both teams know they can comeback from an early deficit? If Houston wants to win this game, they need another big day from Lamar Miller.  While I absolutely think they can get that big day, I think the Chiefs are simply the better team. Alex Smith had one of his best games, without needing to run the ball like he is known to do.  KANSAS CITY WINS
  • Dolphins @ Patriots: No Tom Brady? No Rob Gronkowski? No problem.  Jimmy Garoppolo showed his game management skills in their week 1 win over the Cards. The Pats won the battle of special teams, as Stephen Gostkowski went 3-f0r-3 on field goals, including a 53-yard footer, while the Cards missed a potential game winner with 41 seconds to go. Miami was able to stand pat against the Seahawks in week 1, putting together a masterful 86-yard touchdown drive to take a lead in the fourth quarter. But they fell anyway.  NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Ravens @ Browns: Baltimore’s defense was at a peak level it hasn’t  been at in years in week 1. That being said, the Ravens offense wasn’t very impressive, though give credit to Tennessee there. Joe Flacco was sharp throwing the ball, and got his team into the red zone four times.  Cleveland is already on quarterback number 2 after Robert Griffin went down in his Browns debut. As if that wasn’t bad enough in week 1, the Browns couldn’t stop Carson Wentz, who they passed on in the draft.  Whoever said the curse was broken in Cleveland after the Cavs win wasn’t looking broadly enough. Cleveland needs to establish the run in week 2 if they have any shot of winning, and even then I don’t think it’ll be enough. BALTIMORE WINS 
  • Niners @ Panthers: The team entering this match-up 1-0 isn’t the team I thought would be doing so.  San Francisco laid the goose egg on the Rams in week 1, while the Panthers lost a heart-breaker to the defending champs.  As good as the Niners looked Sunday night, they still aren’t in the same league as this Carolina team, and there is no way the team I tabbed for a Superbowl this season starts 0-2, especially with this game taking place at home.  Blaine Gabbert won’t have it so easy in week 2.  CAROLINA WINS
  • Bengals @ Steelers: Cincinnati escaped week 1 with a road win in New York in a back-and-forth affair. Then, the Steelers rebounded from a slow start to take an easy one from the Skins. Both teams got huge performances from their number 1 wide receivers, meaning the game comes down to the ground and pound.  DeAngelo Williams made up for the lack of Le’Veon Bell and then some. So who gets this first AFC North win?  Give me the black and yellow in week 2.  PITTSBRUGH WINS

Sunday 4/425pm Games

  • Buccaneers @ Cardinals: Jameis Winston had his best game as a pro. And Tampa’s defense did a great job stopping the run against Atlanta, but need to figure out how to stop the big plays.  As for the Cardinals, they fell late to the Patriots on a field-goal.  What gives in week 2?  I love this Arizona squad. Larry Fitzgerald looks amazing.  It took them some time to get going in week 1, but I think they can get going earlier at home against this Bucs defense and get their 1st win of the season. ARIZONA WINS
  • Seahawks @ Rams: Seattle escaped week 1 with a win on the strength of their defense.  L.A. on the other hand, looked like the worst team in the league by far.  They couldn’t stop a Niners offense that wasn’t expected to do much this season, while their own offense looked lost. Last year, the Rams seemed to play up to their competition or down to them, so they could look a bit better this week. But I also don’t expect the Seahawks to look so bad on offense again this week. SEATTLE WINS
  • Falcons @ Raiders:  Atlanta has missed the playoffs the last two seasons, and their defense did little to reassure their fans that this wouldn’t be a third straight.  Scoring has never been the Falcons’ problem, but if they can’t get the run game going this week, they’re in trouble.  The Raiders showed why a lot of people (myself included) have tabbed them to make the postseason this year.  They can score with anyone, and no one believes that more than head coach Jack del Rio who went for two late to give the team a 1-point win on the road.  The Falcons have to control the clock or the Raiders will put them in an 0-2 hole.  OAKLAND WINS
  • Jaguars @ Chargers: I was impressed with both of these teams in week 1.  Both teams lost, but they held their own against two of the league’s best teams (Green Bay and Kansas City). The big play ability of the Jags defense will keep them in most games offensively.  San Diego got a big game on the ground, but the defense let up big time in the 2nd half.  This could be a high scoring game, but I like Jags on the road. JACKSONVILLE WINS
  • Colts @ Broncos: Andrew Luck woke up big time in the 2nd half last season, but the defense left a lot to be desired.  Denver looked strong coming off their Superbowl win, doing big things on the ground with C.J. Anderson.  Indianapolis isn’t facing quite the QB that Matthew Stafford is, and while I liked this Colts team coming into the season, give me another win for the Broncos this week. DENVER WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Packers @ Vikings: The Packers looked good last week, getting Jordy Nelson back into the flow of the offense right away.  Minneosta pulled out a week 1 win thanks to their defense scoring two touchdowns against the Titans.  Adrian Peterson was stuffed by a lesser front than the Packers.  Sure it’s a division game, which is always tougher no matter if there is a talent gap.  But with Green Bay getting Nelson going so quickly is bad news for the Vikings.  I like the Pack to get to 2-0. GREEN BAY WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Eagles @ Bears: Carson Wentz didn’t look like a rookie in week one, while veteran Jay Cutler got shut out in the 2nd half to drop his first of the season.  I don’t particularly like either one of these teams, and while Jay Cutler can put up big numbers, I feel like the Bears don’t have many big play makers right now.   It won’t be as easy for the Eagles this week as it was last week, but I still think they’ll pull this one out. PHILADELPHIA WINS

NBA Finals: Spurs Kawh-It the Heat En-route to Fifth Title

FinalsThe rematch wasn’t quite what we hoped for after a 7-game thriller of 2013.  But with the Western Conference being far superior to the East all season, were you really surprised the NBA Finals ended up following suit? The San Antonio Spurs made easy, and I mean easy work of the two-time defending Champion Miami Heat.  The Spurs finished off the Heat in 5 games, but if not for missed free-throws late in game 2, it could have been a sweep.

It looked like it would be a close, hard-fought series after through two.  Game 1 was close until LeBron James suffered the cramps stemming from the AC going out at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.  That’s when the Spurs pulled away.  But the Heat bounced back in game 2, thanks in part to those previously mentioned missed free-throws by the Spurs.  But then the series went back to Miami, and San Antonio showed their road-warrior spirit, and just ran the Heat of their own court, TWICE.

It was surprising to see Miami, a team led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to show so little fight.  Wade was absent most of the season, looking like an old 32-year-old despite all the regular season rest he was given.  Miami didn’t use Bosh appropriately and James, despite being the best player on the planet, is only one person.  It didn’t help that their starting point guard Mario Chalmers, and bench guys like Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Norris Cole gave them close to nothing on either end of the floor.

Ok, that’s enough about what the Heat didn’t do. Let’s talk about what the new NBA Champs did to win.  They played team basketball.  When you can name 3 or 4 players all worthy of winning Finals MVP, you know you’ve done something right.  Tim Duncan, the 17-year veteran was the most consistent, surpassing Magic Johnson for most double-doubles in Finals history.  Manu Ginobili put a horrible 2013 Finals behind him and turned back the clock.  I mean can we talk about that poster dunk followed by a 3 in game 5?  How about Boris Diaw, a guy who couldn’t stay on the Charlotte Bobcats roster a year ago.  As a big man, he was a better facilitator than all of Miami’s guards put together in this series!  And finally the eventual winner, 22-year-old Kawhi Leonard.  After foul trouble kept him off the floor in games 1 and 2, boy oh boy did this kid step up and put San Antonio on his back.  Big shots, big defense.  It was great to see.  In fact, basically everything the Spurs did in this series was great to watch.  The unselfish ball movement, the consistent defense.  Basketball fans got to enjoy the work of Gregg Popovich, who is in the conversation of greatest coaches to ever grace the sidelines.  It doesn’t matter what pieces he’s given, he finds a way to make them fit into his system.  And it’s a system that has made San Antonio, a small market don’t forget, the toast of the NBA for nearly two decades.

So that’s it.  Another great NBA season is over.  But with the draft 10-days away, as well as free agency upon us, the story-lines continue.  Who goes number 1 to Cleveland?  Will this loss mean James opting out and leaving Miami? Will Duncan retire on top? Will Kevin Love be with the Timberwolves come the start of next season?  What happens with Donald Sterling and the Clippers? And so much more.

Hello Playoffs Part II – Preview & Predictions

Center Court - Game 1 2013 Playoffs vs Bulls

Center Court – Game 1 2013 Playoffs vs Bulls

Remember when the Brooklyn Nets were 10-21 and coming off an ugly blowout to the San Antonio Spurs on the final day of 2013? Remember when they opened up 2014 with a Joe Johnson game-winner over the Oklahoma City Thunder the next day?

Sound familiar?  It should. Except for a slightly better record to start things out last year, it’s the same thing that happened last season during the Nets inaugural season in Brooklyn.  Two years in a row this team has turned things around after a blowout loss and a big win over the top teams in the Western Conference.
Last year Brooklyn  finished the regular season at 49-33.  They were never 11 games under last season, and yet only finished with 5 more losses than this year. Two different teams in may ways? Sure.  But they do share similar regular season story-lines.
However, that is where the similarities end.  Because what we thought would be a rematch of the Bulls-Nets series of a year ago, has turned into a 3-6 match-up between division foes.  A rough end to the season for Brooklyn dropped them to the 6th seat and into a 1st round bout with the Toronto Raptors.
The two teams split the season series 2-2, and boy was their final match-up of the regular season exciting.  Yours truly was there in person, and when I say it’s one of the best basketball games I’ve ever seen, I’m not exaggerating.  Runs, big shot after big shot by both clubs ending in a Nets 101-9 win at Barclays Center.
Toronto wasn’t supposed to be here.  Going into the season, thoughts were they’d tank the season and hope to get a top 3 pick in this years loaded draft, and maybe land Canadian star Andrew Wiggins.  That was made, what we thought more evident when the Raptors traded away Rudy Gay early in the season.  Yet here we are, getting ready to watch them host a first round match-up as Atlantic Division Champs.  Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan pu this team on their athletic backs and drove them into the postseason.
Athletic. Young. And hungry.  That’s the Toronto Raptors in a nutshell.  And the Nets should be afraid.  What couldve been a defensive battle has turned into an offensive slug-fest.  Both teams have been crazy good in 2014, but as the Nets limp into the playoffs, the Raptors have continued their hot play.  Inexperience up and down the lineup has to do battle with the veteran laden Nets squad.
For Brooklyn to have success, they have to limit turnovers.  Toronto’s speed can turn those into easy buckets in transition.  Not to mention Mason Plumlee, Kevin Garnett and (if he gets minutes), Andray Blatche have to do work down low.  Without Brook Lopez, they’ve been limited as far as having a rim defender, and though he’s not a great rebounding big man, Lopez makes you work for 2nd chance opportunities.  The Raptors front court of Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Terrence Ross are quick, strong and not afraid to attack the paint.
But for me, the biggest match-up comes in the back court.  Lowry and DeRozan are one of the better scoring back-courts in the league.  Deron Williams has issues defending smaller, quicker guards, though Shaun Livingston’s presence will help.
So are the Nets better off in the 6th or would they have been better suited for that rematch with the Chicago Bulls?  Only time will tell, but I think if both teams play to the high levels seen since January, you can bet it’s going to be a fun and intense series.

So what will be some of the keys heading into this series if the Nets want to avoid being knocked out by the Bulls in two consecutive seasons?

  • Kevin Garnett must be healthy. You don’t need 30 minutes from him with Mason Plumlee playing well, but KG’s still a great defensive player, and their only real rim defender. He also has a fire that burns even brighter in the playoffs. This is why he was brought over in the off-season. Since returning from the back spasms, he’s looked very good.  Maybe the time off his legs will mean big performances coming up.
  • Deron Williams needs to be on every game.  Remember when he carried this team to the playoffs last season? He’s shown flashes of that player this season, but needs to show it more than once or twice a week. Shaun Livingston has been remarkable this season, but Brooklyn only goes as far as D-Will and his max contract can take them.
  • Mirza Teletovic and/or Marcus Thornton need to be consistent sparks off the bench. The Bulls can defend with the best of them, but when these players get hot, it doesn’t matter who is on them.  If they can come in, especially if the starters get off to a slow start, and hit a couple of 3s quickly, this team can possibly rattle a young Raptors squad.
  • Plumlee and Livingston need to limit the bad early fouls.  They’re too important to be on the bench too quickly.  The rookie is the energy of this front court, while Shaun is the same in the back.  Starting alongside Williams means you’ve got your two best ball handlers on the court for a majority of the game, and while Alan Anderson and Joe Johnson can handle the rock, that’s not what you want too often.   And as for Plumlee, this team isn’t deep at center, especially if you have to limit KG’s minutes.
  • Paul Pierce. Like KG, his postseason pedigree is a huge reason why he was traded for, and he’s shown he can still carry a team on his back.  If he gets established early, look  out.
  • And the biggest one? Rebounding. They’re a terrible rebounding team, but they still find ways to win.  Brooklyn has to try to limit Noah and Boozer from killing them too badly on the boards.  The Nets ability to force  turnovers will have to help counter act this.

There’s no reason this version of the Brooklyn Nets shouldn’t make it out of the first round.    The biggest problem last season was toughness.  Chicago manhandled every person that took the court for Brooklyn.  While this team is perceived as “old,” they’ve shown they’re not afraid of anyone.   They’ve looked better overall this season in that department, and should get past their division foes.  Falling back to 6 also means advancing on would mean a possible 2nd round date with the Miami Heat, who they were 4-0 against, as opposed to seeing Indiana, who they dropped all 4 against in the regular season.

So how far do you think the Nets go? Let your voice be heard and vote on the poll below.

With all that being said, here’s how I see the playoffs going from start to finish.

Eastern Conference Round 1                         Western Conference Round 1            

(1) Indiana  vs (8) Atlanta – Pacers in 5                      (1) San Antonio vs (8) Dallas – Spurs in 5

(2) Miami vs (7) Charlotte  – Heat in 5                           (2) Oklahoma City vs (7) Memphis – Thunder in 6

(3) Toronto vs (6) Brooklyn – Nets in 6                           (3) LA vs (6) Golden State – Clips in 6

(4) Chicago vs (5) Washington – Bulls in 6                (4) Houston vs (5) Portland – Rockets in 6

  • Toronto wasn’t supposed to be here, they were thought to be rebuilding.  Yet here they are, the 3 seed and Atlantic Division champs.  And Washington hadn’t been over .500 since 2009-2010, and started off the season just as bad as Brooklyn did. And out west, the Clippers and Warriors hate each other. Both can run, both have deadly shooters who can get hot quickly.  And don’t get me started on their point guards. But for second straight season, Golden State will be without their best post defender in Andrew Bogut, and I see the size of DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Glen Perkins just being too much for the Warriors to overcome.  Memphis is hot coming in, but the Spurs aren’t going down in round one, and neither with OKC.  Houston plays little defense, and Portland isn’t any better.  Give me Dwight Howard, Chandler Parson and James Harden any day over LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews.  Indy has been struggling, but the Hawks tried with all their might not to make it to the postseason, and I think the Pacers will make it look easy.  Charlotte might give Miami issues, but I don’t see much more than 1 win and a bunch of close losses.

Eastern Conference Round 2                        Western Conference Round 2

(1) Indiana vs (3) Chicago – Chicago in 7                  (1) San Antonio vs (4) Houston – Spurs in 6

(2) Miami vs (5) Brooklyn – Heat in 6                          (2) OKC vs (4) Clippers – Thunder in 6

  • I wanted to pick the Nets, and if they’d closed out on a higher note, I would have. But I they get past the 1st round and no more.  Miami will find a way to make the plays they didn’t down the stretch, especially with a healthy Wade on the floor.  The Pacers can’t score, but neither can the Bulls.  But Chicago’s defense is just better, and I think they find a way.  Out west it should be a lot of fun, but the Spurs are better defensively and I just think it’s the Thunder’s time.  LA and Chris Paul need a 2nd round appearance, but I think next year is a better year for the Clips to make it any further.

Eastern Conference Finals                    Western Conference Finals

(1) Miami vs (3) Chicago – Heat in 6                 (1) San Antonio vs (2) Oklahoma City – Thunder in 6

  • Chicago’s good luck runs out.  I can’t pick against Miami at home.  OKC match-ups up better than any of the other 28 teams in the league with San Antonio, and despite not holding home court, I see a rematch of the 2012 Finals.

NBA Finals  

(1) Oklahoma City vs (2) Miami – THUNDER WIN in 7

  •  I think it’s time for my 2013-14 MVP, Kevin Durant, to win his first ring, and I think he gets it.  The Heat might make a 4th straight finals, but they’re going to be tired.  The Westbrook injury was a blessing in disguise for OKC.  It means fresh legs, the bench will be ready to pick up the slack and the sidekick Durant was missing last season.  And if it should be Spurs in the finals, I say revenge for last season.  The West has been miles ahead of the East all year, and I think it means a championship for whatever team gets out.

So that’s it. Nothing left to do but sit back and watch a whole lot of really good basketball for the next month and a half. Oh the horror!

And here’s a not so shameless plug on my personal blog – stick with Sirius XM NBA Radio Channel 217 and on the Sirius XM App before and after games for great analysis and guests throughout the postseason and beyond.

Enjoy the run towards a ring everyone. May the best team win!

 

Things Might Finally Be Turning Around For Brooklyn

A 3-game win streak means they had their best week of the season, at 2-1 (1st win came last week).  The return of Deron Williams sparked the winning, but another injury to Brook Lopez was a big reason for the streak being stopped on Friday against the Pistons.

Game 21: vs Boston

It was the first time Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett faced off against their former team.  Pierce came back from a fractured hand, and KG was a big reason they held on down the stretch.  It was also the return of Deron Williams, and he helped take down the Atlantic division leading Celtics.  For once they got they off to a fast start, and did a decent job maintaining their lead.

Williams first game back saw him lead all scorers as the Nets shot nearly 56% percent from the field.  Brook Lopez also continued his hot play, hitting 10 of his 13 attempts.  The best part of the game was the fact that they came out with energy from the start and kept it up all game, which allowed Brooklyn to maintain their lead throughout.

The win capped off a strange 3 game sequence in the all-under .500 division.  The Nets were blown out by the Knicks who were then blown out by Boston, who then lost this game to Brooklyn.

  • Deron Williams with game high honors – 25 points, Garnett pulled down 9 boards and Williams added a team high 7 assists in his return.

W Celtics 94 – Nets 106

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Game 22: vs Los Angeles

The Clippers looked like they were going to walk all over the Nets early, but after a quick double-digit lead, Brooklyn got the 1st quarter deficit down to just 5.  Then they took over, outscoring LA 63-37 in the 2nd and 3rd quarters in route to a 102-3 win.  It’s their best win since taking down the Heat for their first game of the season, especially with how the Clippers had been playing defensively the past week weeks.

5 Nets finished in double figures, and while the Clippers shot an astounding 52-free throws, Brooklyn hit 93% of theirs from the charity stripe, while LA only made 67%.  It was a good defensive showing against a high-powered offense, but it didn’t come without a cost.  Brook Lopez, who had been hitting his stride coming off a left ankle sprain, left the game after re-injuring the ankle in the 3rd.  Hopefully for Brooklyn, their big man will return quickly, because this win showed just how good this team can be when healthy.

  • Joe Johnson and Andray Blatche tied for game-high honors with 21 points, Blatche added a team high 9 rebounds and Pierce added 5 assists off the bench.

W Clippers 102 – Nets 93

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Game 23: @ Detroit

The end of the back-to-back didn’t go well.  Missing Lopez again, the Pistons took full advantage down low, taking a double-digit lead early, outscoring Brooklyn by 18 in the 3rd quarter and holding on late.

Blatche continues to play well off the bench, but the loss of Lopez really showed in this one.  Reggie Evans started in his place, and showed why he was out of the rotation completely.  Not to mention along with Garnett and Alan Anderson, 3 of Brooklyn’s 5 starters combined for just 12 points.  The defense was non-existent in the 2nd quarter, and two Piston big men had tallied double-doubles.

So much for using a big win at home to launch them on a nice long winning streak.

  • Deron Williams lead the way for the 2nd time in his 3rd game back with 22 points and 9 assists, while Blatche had a double-double off the bench, 20-points and 12 boards.

Nets 99 – Pistons 103

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So while the finale to the week didn’t go well, there is a difference with Williams on the floor, and from the start he looks to be completely healthy.  Lopez sat Friday, but the Nets say it was for precautionary reasons.  With both days off this weekend, their big man gets 3 days to rest the ankle and should be good to go when they take on the Sixers at home on Monday and the Wizards on Wednesday.  Then Brooklyn hits the road to take on the Sixers in their building.

NBA: The Nets Can’t Find Any Consistency

Coming off their best week of the season at 2-2, the Nets looked to get on track with a home-heavy schedule in December.  Instead, they continued to leave their defense in 2012.  This team is not good on either end of the floor right now, and really need their starting point-guard back.  Deron WIlliams showed in the second half of last season how good this team can be when him and Brook Lopez are on the floor together, day-in and day-out.  And when Williams, Lopez, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were on the floor together early on, is when you saw the best from this team.  Wins against Miami and hard-fought defensive battles with Indiana were proof. It was depth injuries and unfamiliarity than that plagued this team.  Now its injuries on all fronts, and a lack of energy, especially on the defensive end.  Now here’s a look back at this weeks 3 games.

Game 18: vs Denver

It was a chance to prove themselves against a good team, finally start a win streak, and make a push at home.  Instead, it turned into another blowout.  They couldn’t defend, they couldn’t keep up with the young, fast Nuggets, and they couldn’t rebound.  All recipes for disaster.  Not to mention another horrible 3rd quarter, the norm for this team.

The Nets actually got off to a good start, winning the 1st quarter, but the Nuggest defense got hot, as did their everything on offense, scoring 31 in both the 2nd and 3rd quarters.  It didn’t help that Brook Lopez was not good, on either end, and that never ends well for Brooklyn. Their all-star center allowed Timofey Mozgov to have a crazy night, 17 points and 20 rebounds.

  • Joe Johnson with a team high 22, Kevin Garnett and Andray Blatche both pulled down 6 boards, and Shaun Livingston led the way with 4 assists.

L Nuggets 111 – Nets 87

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Game 19: vs New York

The two teams entered action a combined 8-26, but the final score made the Knicks look like a top team, and the Nets the near bottom-dwellers that they are so far.  Another poor start by Brooklyn saw them down as many as 15 in the 1st quarter once again.  They would finish the quarter down 7, and play an even 2nd to keep it a game.  Then the dreaded 3rd quarter hit.  Iman Shumpert, who’s been inconsistent for New York, went off as a part of the Knicks domination of the 3rd quarter, outscoring Brooklyn by himself.

Early on, it looked like Brook Lopez might be able to dominate down low, as he should’ve, with New York missing their star center Tyson Chandler.  But poor shooting early, along with foul trouble, held back Lopez from what could’ve been a monster effort.  Add to that another night of poor 3-point defense, and you can see why the Nets were blown out again, in their own building, against a then 3-win team.

Make it two straight games of allowing over a 110 points for this very bad Brooklyn defense.  Not only was the effort on the court lacking again, the fan support wasn’t there either, as from the introductions, the black and white of Barclays Center, was dominated by the blue and orange.  It was a bad night all around.

  • Brook Lopez did lead the way in scoring, putting up 20 to go with his team high 9 rebounds.  A poor assist night meant Andray Blatche’s 3 were the most by a Net in the blowout.

L Knicks 113 – Nets 83

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Game 20: @ Milwaukee

It wasn’t pretty, but who cares?  The Nets needed a win, and they picked one up on the road to end the week.  Brook Lopez was the reason why, carrying the team with 20 of their 39 1st half points.  Lopez needed an effort like that, after a bad start to the week.

Another win means another won 3rd quarter.  Alan Anderson and Joe Johnson helped Lopez out in that quarter, both finishing in double figures.  The Nets did a good job handling the rock, turning it over just 8 times.  Another bad night shooting the 3, but the ones they did hit came in big spots to help build a 2nd half lead.  The defense showed up for once, and my favorite part, is they took advantage of the mismatch down low.  See Lopez’s night.  He knew he was bigger and stronger, and the Nets got him the ball for 13 field-goal attempts.  They have to do a better job of this, as Lopez is bigger than most centers in the league.  And he’s starting to play like that.

  • Brook Lopez with a season high 32 points, Andray Blatche and Kevin Garnett again tied for a team high 8 rebounds and Joe Johnson led with 5 dimes.

W Nets 90 – Bucks 82

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So they enter week 2 of December at 6-14. A big test awaits on Tuesday at home, as the Atlantic leading Celtics come to Brooklyn.  Boston is only 9-12, but lead the weak division and of course have half the 2012-2013 Nets on their roster after the Pierce/Garnett deal.  Pierce of course will miss the first game against his old team with his fractured finger, but Garnett is sure to be fired up for it.  Then the Clippers come in on Thursday.  Brooklyn then hits the road for a game in Detroit to finish up the week on Friday.  Revenge should be on the Nets minds for those 2 matchups, as they lost to both already this year.